The high cost of fuel for flying pigs

A couple of weeks ago, we were sitting in the air-conditioned lounge between fiberglassing projects. We were wearing what Barry and I call our “itchy-scratchy” clothes, ratty things we only wear for the nastiest, messiest jobs. For me, that means denim shorts with a hole in the rear, an old t-shirt large enough to fit an elephant, and sandals.

A fellow walked in, and I glanced up from my notebook and said hello, absently. Then I looked at him again.

It was over 100 degrees, and he looked cool as a cucumber. He was wearing tooled leather cowboy boots and black jeans, with the kind of dress shirt you see at a country and western dance, or a square dance. It had shiny button covers and fancy trim along the yoke.

I realized I was staring, and I blurted out, “You sure don’t look like you’re working on a boat today!”

“No, I came on my motorcycle to show my boat to a prospective buyer,” he replied. He explained that he had a powerboat for sale out in the storage lot, the place we jokingly call “the field of broken dreams.”

A few years ago, when shopping for a boat, he was that extremely rare breed of boater who would consider either a powerboat or sailboat. He’d found a sailboat he liked, but the asking price was too high. He thought of making a lowball offer, but didn’t want to offend the seller. So he walked away from the sailboat. Later, it sold for the amount he would have offered. He kicked himself, but it was too late. He’d just bought a powerboat, a tri-cabin cruiser.

Now his powerboat is for sale. He can’t afford to use it, his dream broken by the high cost of fuel.

Occasionally, sailors buy powerboats, when they get old and tired of hoisting and trimming sails. Rarely does a powerboater buy a sailboat, but these are unusual times.

There was a very large Hunter sailboat tied up at the dock last week, and Val and Gigi wandered out to see it. “We were surprised to see all the lights on, but none of the hatches were open,” she said. “Then we realized it had two air conditioners, so of course the hatches were closed!”

They chatted with the couple on board, who were taking their new boat home to Texas and had recently run aground and needed repairs. They had sold their powerboat, because the cost of fuel was so high, and now they were going to try sailing. Given the size and complexity of the boat, they were certainly jumping in with both feet. But it was what Barry and I call a “furniture boat,” lots of pretty woodwork and fancy electrical systems, designed for the dock, not the waves.

The problem is, it’s just not natural to make a sailor out of a powerboater. A few years back, I had a coworker with a 25-foot planing powerboat. At the time, we had the Northern Crow, a gutsy little 25-foot sailboat.

Initially, I’d come in on Monday and compare notes with Gary. We’d spent a day ghosting to Poulsbo, watching for favorable currents, while he’d zipped up to Port Townsend in a couple of hours. But after a few months, I started coming in on Monday and seeing a long face. “How was your weekend, Gary? Did you take the boat out?” I’d ask. And his answer was always, “No, I couldn’t afford the fuel this weekend. The kids needed…” At the time, gas prices were half of what they are today, but he had teenaged boys in the house who ate up all his money.

I often teased him, saying, “How about a sailboat?” but it was a joke. He’d take up sailing when pigs fly.

Eventually, Gary got fired and had a mid-life crisis. He ran off with his stepson’s girlfriend, and his wife bitterly filed for divorce. She sold the boat.

I wonder if Gary or the fellow in the cowboy boots will ever have another boat. Given the price of fuel — high and going higher — the answer might just be, when pigs fly.